Healthcare sector 'prime soft target for cyber criminals'

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The health sector is vulnerable to cyber attacks, health leaders have warned.

The World Medical Association (WMA) said that hackers could potentially alter a patient's data or interfere with ongoing medical procedures.

The organisation, which is holding its annual assembly in Taiwan, called on all healthcare providers to take action to defend themselves against such attacks.

The WMA has released a statement saying that technological advancements have paved the way for improvements in healthcare and streamlined workflow.

But it said that cyber security threats were an "unfortunate reality" in the age of digital information and communication.

And cyber attacks pose a "serious threat to the health and well-being of the general public", the WMA statement said.

"With the proliferation of electronic medical records and billing systems, the healthcare sector is especially susceptible to cyber intrusions and has become a prime soft target for cyber criminals," the statement added.

"Healthcare institutions and business partners, from the smallest of private practices to the largest of hospitals, are vulnerable not only to the theft, alteration and manipulation of patients' electronic medical and financial records, but also to increasingly sophisticated system breaches that could jeopardise their ability to provide care for patients and respond to health emergencies."

The statement added: "Patient data also demands protection because it often contains sensitive personal information that can be used by criminals to access bank accounts, steal identities, or obtain prescriptions illegally.

"For this reason, it is worth far more on the black market than credit card information alone. Alterations to or abuse of patient data in the case of a breach can be detrimental to the health, safety and material situation of patients. In some cases, breaches can even have life-threatening consequences."

The WMA said that  current security procedures in the healthcare sector have not kept pace with the volume and magnitude of cyber attacks as it called on health officials across the globe to improve cyber security in health systems.

Professor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, vice chairman of the WMA, said: "It is vital to raise awareness about this threat. Healthcare institutions, from the smallest of private practices to the largest of hospitals, are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

"Criminals can not only access bank accounts and prescriptions illegally, but they could alter a patient's data or interfere with ongoing medical procedures - both with life-threatening consequences.

"We would like to see medical institutions urgently put in place comprehensive systems for preventing security breaches, including training staff about data handling practices."